White House scientific adviser Dr Deborah Birx warned the United States is entering a new “deadly phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, and urged an “aggressive” approach to containing its spread.
Birx gave the warning in a written memo delivered to top administration officials Monday. It is a direct contradiction of one of Donald Trump’s central, and false, closing campaign messages – that the US is “rounding the corner” on the pandemic.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic,” Birx wrote in the memo, first reported by the Washington Post.
She continued: “Cases are rapidly rising in nearly 30% of all USA counties, the highest number of county hotspots we have seen with this pandemic… Half of the United States is in the red or orange zone for cases despite flat or declining testing.”
The memo came as Trump gathered hundreds at in-person rallies in key swing states, and warned that his political rival, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, would lockdown the country again.
“This is not about lockdowns – it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April,” Birx said. “It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
Americans need “consistent messaging about uniform use of masks, physical distancing and hand washing with profound limitation on indoor gatherings especially with family and friends,” she wrote.
News of the memo comes after Dr Anthony Fauci, considered the top infectious disease expert in the US, who is the leading public health official on the White House coronavirus taskforce, while Birx is the team’s coordinator, warned the winter will bring “a whole lot of hurt”, if the US does not immediately change the pandemic’s trajectory.
The US set a world record for new cases over the weekend, with more than 100,000 new diagnoses in one day. Hospitalizations have increased alongside new infections. Deaths, considered a lagging indicator, also rose slightly.
Deaths have not reached the heights seen last spring, when the virus overwhelmed hospital systems in the north-east and New York City in particular. But experts warned they could rise to those levels again, if hospital systems become overwhelmed and are unable to find the nursing staff needed to treat patients.
Already, hospital systems are struggling to find nurses, training those with limited experience in working in field hospitals, and relying on traveling nurses to provide care.
Experienced nurses are “burned out with this whole (pandemic)” and some are quitting, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, an emergency room nurse at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan. “Replacing them is not easy,” he added.
Meanwhile, the nursing home industry where America’s most medically vulnerable residents live, has warned cases are growing inside facilities and community spread will inevitably find its way inside facilities.
Experts in personal protective equipment are also warning of shortages, including critically of nitrile gloves. Dr Shikha Gupta, executive director of the nonprofit Get Us PPE, warned: “We are deeply unprepared for what that’s going to bring as hospitals reach capacity across the US with surging caseloads.”